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17: Russ



“We’re Not Suits With No Rhythm…”

The Cosa Nostra. “This thing of ours”. A common phrase spoken to and by men having taken the Omertà, a southern Italian code of silence. The “Made Men” attend rituals and trials to cement their place amongst an exclusive collective that some argue is still around to this day, despite public and mainstream narrative. The Sicilian Mafia is not a centralized organization, but rather a group of independent gangs operating under one banner, with independence being the key word here. Once the nation of Sicily was annexed by Italy, the people were bound to another entity that didn’t have much love for them, and the rest is history.

However, the means in which the Sicilian people survived and thrived was the important aspect of their “do it yourself” mentality, to not rely on systems or ordinances given by foreign entities with differing agendas. The generational traits of the Sicilian people reverberate to this day, and these are very useful in the music industry, displayed perfectly by the “DIY King” Russ.

Born Russel James Vitale on September 26th, 1992, into a Sicilian-American family, Russ was taught the guitar by his father from an early age. He would learn several other instruments afterwards, and this was a means to make sure his future career was built on a solid foundation. His music knowledge was strengthened whilst he produced his own instrumentals, until the time came for his first single to be released at the age of 18. Early inspirations included G-Unit and Eminem, who were at the top of the mountain during the early to mid-2000s. His relentless ambition was on display from the very start of his career. Diemon, a joint venture with his lifetime friend and fellow rapper, Bogus, would be established in 2010.

“It’s just a surer artist- friendly situation where we’re here to provide resources and mentorship to artists that we believe in.”

He would work tirelessly to become a name in the industry, producing and recording over 11 albums and 87 singles of his own accord over the span of three years. Non-stop hustling and grinding to avoid the frustration of relying on a major label; a heavy burden to carry. His efforts were (and still are) highly respectable, despite none of his music making the waves he’d have hoped. At this point, Russ was teetering between continuing the long and slow build, or just cave in and sign on the dotted line. He would find a solution by signing a distribution deal with Columbia Records, a partnership which enabled him to earn his own money weekly whilst getting much needed support in reaching a bigger audience. With this, he would release his 12th album named There’s Really a Wolf, which reached #7 on the US Billboard 200 chart.

Cover Art for Russ' "There's Really A Wolf"

The album would be certified platinum a year later. This was the beginning of his rise in the industry. With this new partnership, he couldn’t miss. The next full-length project would reach a career high #4 on the same chart. The risk was paying off handsomely, and he was reaping the rewards.

Russ had proven to himself and fellow artists that tireless grind to achieve their vision, the slow burning of the long game, is far greater than the short one. Ultimately, his discipline was rewarded; a constant lesson for anyone in life. He had done it the Sicilian way, on his own terms and in his own time.

“How Much Xans and Lean Do You Have To Do Before You Realize, You’re a Loser….”

With ambition comes ego, and with ego, enemies. Russ, with his newfound influence, decided to make his thoughts known on a multitude of subjects, including the use of drugs by popular rappers. He received backlash for his statement on Fredo Santana’s (RIP) addiction to lean in which Fredo replied with an honest statement.

His stance on drug use is an obvious one; drugs aren’t good overall. But typical of this society, he received major backlash to the tune of “Fuck Russ,” ultimately cementing itself as a meme. Controversy sells, but was this a chess move by Russ to maintain his newfound fame? A controversial figure in the industry will always be financially viable.

"In the culture that we live in, in hip-hop, I am going to be the bad guy because I'm not what's going on."

Russ rarely pulls punches with his opinions, whether it be the business of fellow rappers or sections of the industry itself, or more specifically the blog sphere. Blogs have been a staple of the internet music community since its inception. Names like DJ Akademiks and Dorian Group have made major waves in the music scene through their blunt nature, albeit with chameleon tendencies at times. Russ doesn’t agree. His disagreement with major blogs at the time - “Pigeons & Planes” - sparked even more hostility. “Blogs Don’t Matter…” echoed around the internet, in a period where the blog was king and everyone and their mothers wanted a piece. One was Nadeska, a music blogger and host of the Complex show “Everyday Struggle”, in which a war of words was exchanged.

After becoming a made man in the industry, he naturally became a target too. Irrespective of the time and energy put into his craft over close to a decade, his mouth was the only thing the general community cared about. But his audience is strong and loyal, proving they will ride with him regardless; perhaps it’s a very well calculated move by Russ. Build a solid cult following, and whichever head or gatekeeper you offend, or disrespect won’t matter. Recently, he chimed in on the DaBaby situation in which he disagreed with the notion that “That Artists Can be Blackballed”.

Screenshot of Russ' Instragram post

Commentary resulted from DaBaby alleging that he had been blackballed from the industry upon his first week numbers for his second album “Baby On Baby 2” (16,000). DaBaby’s numbers were 16,000 units in its first week, whilst his first week numbers for his previous album were 124,000 units with a #1 position on the US Billboard 200, an unprecedented drop. His comments on the LGBTQ+ didn’t go un answer. Had DaBaby worked on the slow build instead of the “fake” build, maybe he would have been better off at this juncture. DaMaybe.

Russ has shown through relentless ambition and the ways of the old country that artists can make it without succumbing to the major record labels. Many will try and fail miserably, but the unseen benefit is the freedom and self-fulfilment that comes from that grind. Russ has predicted, through the creation of his label DIEMON, that the industry will change due to his efforts, but some don’t share the same sentiments:

“Some people choose to talk too much and fake some sort of clairvoyance in regards to their analysis as to the future of the record-ing industry. Certain parts of the business will for sure be obsolete but not as a whole, and the industry continues to pivot and adjust retain relevancy and control. The fact that he mis-construes these ideas shows how full of himself he is. What worked for him especially with his image will certainly not work for someone else.”

Regardless of how others may feel, Russ has proven it can be achieved, and his words of the future are some to ponder on. Independence is vital, and if it seems impossible, heed to the words of one of the greatest gangster characters of all time:

“I don’t wanna be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me...”

                                                                                                                               - Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson)

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria